Courting the Religious Right

As the 2008 presidential election draws near, potential candidates are vying for voters’ support; in a country where 83% of the population identifies as Christian and 37% of this group describes themselves as evangelicals or born-again, it is easy to see how Republican candidates could perceive the religious right as an important voting bloc. John McCain certainly seems to be embracing the notion whole-heartedly as he prepares to be the keynote speaker for the Discovery Institute, which is “the most prominent creationism advocacy group in the country.” Despite a history of waffling back and forth on whether or not intelligent design should be taught in schools, McCain appears to have finally taken a definite stance in favor of a radically conservative social agenda. This is a tactical mistake.

The importance of the religious right seemed to be verified in 2004 by the national exit poll, which revealed that the “most important” issue to voters was “moral values”; consequently, the religious right was hailed as the decisive voting bloc in the initial analysis of the election. Soon thereafter, however, this belief in a “moral values” and religious-right victory for George W. Bush was debunked upon closer inspection, and studies pointed towards an increase in support from blocs of moderate voters as the decisive factor in 2004. By agreeing to be the keynote speaker for the Discovery Institute, McCain is making a blatant appeal to the conservative evangelicals, and he is at definite risk of alienating large blocs of his potential voters. Ever since Darwin’s theory of evolution began being taught in the classroom, conservative evangelicals have been pushing to get creationism taught in the classroom as an alternate, but equally plausible, theory; however, a poll conducted by the People for the American Way Foundation found that a vast majority of Americans want evolution taught in public schools, and a very small minority want creationism taught as science in the classroom. Although the evangelical right was definitely a crucial component of Bush’s voting constituency and represented approximately a quarter of Bush’s supporters in 2004, they were not the decisive vote that swung the national vote in Bush’s favor, and McCain cannot afford to alienate the rest of his potential support. While showing some alignment with the social agenda of the religious right is crucial for a successful right-wing campaign, McCain has chosen to champion a cause that does not resonate with as broad a support base as issues of morality such as gay marriage or the right to life. Ultimately he is establishing a platform that will have a very narrow appeal, which will be a shaky foundation for a presidential bid.

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